(and not a moment too soon)
by Paul Leach.
In the TARDIS, the Doctor was sitting in his study surrounded on all sides by leather-bound volumes. He sat deeply sunken in a leather armchair, having discarded his multi-coloured coat, a briar pipe in his mouth, his copy of the First Folio, personally dedicated to him by Bill open in front of him.. The pipe was symbolic and unlit, the Doctor believed that sucking on it would give him inspiration. He was thinking over something that Peri had said to him - that all they did was argue. He was aware that his sixth incarnation was quite unlike the young cricket-loving traveller that Peri had elected to travel with. He had been critical of his previous form, but maybe it would have been better if he had remained as the repressed young fool. But anyway, Peri couldn't blame him - she had forced him to regenerate, she had "killed" him, by falling in that stupid Spectrox nest. No, that was unfair, he had only himself to blame for the way in which he now behaved. He was stable now, he had been for a long time, and to the Doctor's horror was becoming as crotchety and argumentative as his original incarnation. The Doctor prided himself with the false modesty that he was the most perfect incarnation yet. He would learn from the mistakes of his predecessors. He needed to mend bridges with Peri, extend the hand of friendship. He reached over to a scarlet bell-rope and pulled it sharply, far away a bell rang.
A few minutes later, the door to the study opened and Peri entered. She stared at the Doctor sitting in his armchair sucking his empty pipe, then spoke.
"Run out of sherry, Doctor ?"
"By no means. Will you take a glass ?"
"Stop trying to be English. You're not human - as you told me on Jaconda, you're an alien."
"I said that !"
"Yes, just before your overly-dramatic assertion that you were the Doctor, whether I liked it or not ! If you're an alien, act like one, instead of sitting there sucking your pipe like Sherlock Holmes ! Well, all emotions are abhorrent to you ! "
"Peri, we've been through a lot together. Sontarans, Cybermen, Daleks, Sil, the Rani. Don't you think we could be slightly more civil to one another ? Why do you resent me so much ?"
"You're rude, arrogant, self-centred......"
"But apart from that", interrupted the Doctor.
"You're not who you were !".
This last comment was delivered in a very sharp tone, and to the Doctor shock, tears began rolling down Peri's cheeks.
"We need to talk about this", the Doctor said attempting to sound soothing, and gestured Peri to another armchair, which she sat down in gratefully.
There was a long pause which neither of them wanted to break. Finally Peri spoke, her voice shaky and full of emotion.
"You met my step-father, Howard ?"
"Yes", said the Doctor softly.
"I've never talked to you about my father - my real father. He was perfect, I was his princess, he was my protector. Then when I was eight, he was diagnosed with cancer. I watched that wonderful man fade away until all that was left was a hulk, not my father. Finally, mercifully he slipped away. But less than nine months later, my mother was marrying Howard. He wanted to be my father, but he wasn't - he wasn't half the man that my father was. I hated him, I despised him, I wished him dead. Then I met you - the other you, and you reminded me so much of my father. That's probably why I wanted to travel with you.."
The Doctor nodded slowly, his face set in an expression of anguish.
"And then you changed, I made you change ! I always used to wonder as a kid whether I had anything to do with my father's death, but knew that it was stupid. But I did kill you ! You weren't the Doctor any more, you weren't my father...."
"I was Howard !", the Doctor finished.
Peri nodded, her eyes filling with tears again.
"But why stay ?"
"I did it ! I did it ! I made you what you are now ! Me ! Me ! Me !"
Peri's voice had become a screech, and as she finished she sank her head in her lap, consumed by another bout of crying. The Doctor sat frozen by her words, searching helplessly for something soothing to say. Unable to think of anything, he got up without a word and crossed over to the armchair, and wrapped his arms around Peri in what he took to be a comforting manner, her head resting on his large shoulders as she wept endlessly in an almost primeval fashion, her tears soaking into the material of the Doctor's white shirt.
Half an hour later, Peri had stopped crying. The two of them were now sitting silently in their separate armchairs, gazing blankly into mid-air. Nothing had been said since Peri's outburst, nothing needed to have been, a silent unspoken understanding existed between them, and a new chapter had opened in their adventures together. The Doctor was angry with himself that it had taken so long for this conversation to take place, that for so long they had been almost enemies rather than friends. This was a thought which was to come back to haunt him many months later, when he watched the apparent destruction of his companion on a screen in a Gallifreyan courtroom.
They still sat unspeaking, both unwilling to break the silence. The Doctor found that all his usual jovial flippancy had deserted him. Finally, Peri broke the silence.
"Why did you do what you did ? Die to save me ?"
"I canít explain, it just seemed right at the time. I donít have any regrets about doing it. In fact Iíd probably do it again."
"Of course, you would, thatís what you do !", Peri answered almost accusingly, "You save people !"
"Not always", the Doctor replied sadly, his eyes drawn to the remains of a gold star on the mantelpiece above the roaring log fire."What do I do ? I couldnít save my father, and I couldnít save you. I made you what you are now."
"Am I really that bad ?"
"Maybe not.""Why should we fight ? Surely, thereís some middle ground. We might even be able to become friends. Iím willing to make an effort if you will."
A long silence followed this statement, the Doctor looked over at Peri expectantly, but she merely sat there staring into space, apparently contemplating his offer. The Doctor had run out of things to say, and could not think of what to next. He knew that he had to gain Periís trust, but how ? Suddenly, he was seized with a sudden idea. Leaping to his feet, he crossed quickly to Peri, took her hand in his, and pulled her roughly out of her chair.
"Iíve got it !", he cried overly enthusiastically.
"Well, letís hope itís not catching, then", Peri replied
.Ignoring this, the Doctor crossed to the roomís oak panelled door, dragging a complaining Peri behind him, and opening the door dragged her up the TARDIS corridor outside.
A hospital in St. Michelle, Pasadena, USA. More than two thousand years before the events just described. A tall sharply-featured woman is leaving a side-room; her face strangely set in an emotionless stare. The eye is drawn to a gold pendant around her neck, the letter "J". Beside her is a small brown-haired girl, not more than ten years old, who is sobbing uncontrollably, "Why Mommy? Why ?" Her mother makes no response, looking directly ahead as she slowly walks down the sterile hospital corridor, not even noticing the corpulent doctor, with the plain name badge "Doctor John Smith". He stands at the entrance to a connecting corridor, his white coat straining to contain his bulk, and barely concealing his multicolour frock coat, watching the two figures walk off into the distance, and when is sure they are out of sight, beckons down the connecting corridor to a young brunette nurse. Not saying a word, the nurse passes the doctor and moves to the door of the side-room that the two visitors had just left, and opens it, pausing only briefly to read the sign on the door, which says "Brown". Entering the room, she crosses to the bed, and the prostrate figure on it. For more than a minute she is unable to speak, but finally the words come out, in a strangled tone which she does not recognise as her own.
"Dad. Can you hear me ? Itís Peri."
There is no response from the seemingly sleeping figure.
"I donít know if you can hear me, Dad. But Iím going to say it anyway [A gigantic pause] I love you ! I know Iíve never said it, but I do ! I know that this is the last chance Iíll have to say this, but you know me, always leaving everything to the last minute. [forced laugh] I suppose that this is goodbye then. I donít want you to go, but thereís nothing I can do. [angry] I love you, but thereís nothing I can do to save you. Thatís all I wanted to say, Dad. [pause] Goodbye then !"
She crosses to the bed, bends over her father, and kisses his forehead. She then returns to the door, looking at the figure of her father the whole time, opens the door, steps through and lets it close, giving her a final glimpse of the bed. Unbeknown to Peri, as soon as the door shuts, the line on the life-support machine levels out.
Looking at the figure in the ill-fitting white coat, Peri finds herself smiling. Only the Doctor would have come up with the idea of raiding the TARDIS wardrobe for hospital uniforms, and only the Doctor would have come up with the idea of pushing her through the corridors from the boiler room where the TARDIS had materialised to her fatherís room, on a hospital trolley covered with a sheet. He had made an effort, and seemed somehow more like the Doctor whom she had first met. She looks at the Doctor, who looks back at her, no words are needed, all is said in that brief glance between them. The Doctor pats the trolley, indicating that Peri should jump up onto it.
"Come, Peri. We have many more places to go."
Doing as willed, Peri jumps onto the trolley, is covered by the sheet, and the Doctor pushes her at full speed back towards the TARDIS and the start of a new era.
© Paul Leach 1999.